Probably the first thing that comes to mind when someone mentions gelatin to you is dessert. However, most gelatin is a meat by-product. As such, it works equally well in savory dishes as it does in desserts and molded salads. Although most commercial gelatin sold is made from animals, there are forms of gelatin (see link below) to fit all types of diet restrictions, including vegetarian and kosher.
Cooking with Gelatin
Gelatin has many applications. Since unflavored gelatin is 85 percent protein and low in calories, it is an excellent choice for dieters and diabetics. Sugar-free flavored gelatins using sugar substitutes are widely available. Some raw fruits can completely break down gelatin and render it useless.
Gelatin Tips and Hints
- Unprepared gelatin has an indefinite shelf-life as long as it is wrapped airtight and stored in a cool, dry place.
- Keep gelatin dishes refrigerated until ready to serve to maintain their gelatinous state.
- Do not add fresh or frozen pineapple to gelatin or Jell-O. These fruits, along with raw figs, kiwi fruit, guava, ginger root, and contain an enzyme called bromelain which breaks down gelatin causing it to lose its thickening properties. The enzymes are deactivated by cooking, so canned pineapple and kiwi are fine to use.
- To avoid clumping, dry unflavored gelatin should be mixed with a little cold water first for 3 to 5 minutes to moisten and separate before adding hot water.
- Thicker stock and a more delicate flavor results from using veal bones rather than bones since the veal has more collagen which gels the stock.
- Store gelatin desserts in a covered container to avoid the formation of a thick rubbery skin on the surface.
- Too much sugar can inhibit gelatinization. The more sugar in the recipe, the softer the resultant gelatin will be.
- Firmness varies on the ratio of water to gelatin and temperature. You can successfully meltdown (gently using a double-boiler) and re-chill gelatin several times before the mixture loses its thickening ability.
- Gelatin takes twice as long to dissolve when used with cream or milk.
- • When using sugar with unflavored gelatin, mix the sugar and gelatin first before dissolving.
- To suspend fruits, meats, or vegetables in gelatin, chill until it is the consistency of cold egg whites. Then mix in the additions and chill until completely set.
- Be sure to drain all solids of their liquid before adding to gelatin to avoid watering down the gelatin.
- For 2 cups of gelatin mixture, allow 1 to 2 cups of solids, either minced, cubed, or cut into small pieces.
- To easily unmold gelatin, spray the mold with cooking oil before filling. If you want to avoid an oily film which might cloud the surface by using oil spray, simply rinse the mold with cold water prior to filling. Or dip the mold into warm (not hot) water to the depth of the gelatin for 5 to 10 seconds, loosen edges with a knife or spatula, and unmold. Return to the refrigerator for 20 minutes to firm.
- Use 1 envelope (1 tablespoon or 1/4 ounce) unflavored gelatin to 2 cups of water for standard firmness. Decrease or increase water for your particular needs. One 3-ounce package of flavored, sweetened gelatin needs 2 cups of water. One tablespoon of unflavored powdered gelatin equals 4 sheets of leaf gelatin.
- Two hours of chilling should be enough for standard clear molds, while it may take up to 4 hours for those with additions. Layered gelatins will take longer since each layer must be individually chilled and firmed before adding the next layer.
- If you are doubling a recipe originally calling for 2 cups of liquid, use only 3-3/4 cups of liquid in the doubled recipe.
- Other liquids can be used in place of water to prepare gelatin, including fruit juices, clarified vegetable or meat stock, vegetable juices and broths.
- Do not bring gelatin mixtures to a full boil or you risk losing its thickening properties.
- To easily center a mold on a plate, rinse the plate with cold water before unmolding the gelatin.